May 13, 2024 - News

Advocates say criticism of abortion ballot measure is misleading

Illustration of a hand casting a ballot in the shape of a red cross

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some opponents of a proposed ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the Arizona Constitution argue its exemptions would permit abortions up to birth for effectively any reason, but providers say that is a massive mischaracterization.

The big picture: The Arizona Abortion Access Act would ensure the right to an abortion up to fetal viability — the point at which a fetus could survive outside the womb — which is generally considered to be around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

  • It allows for an abortion past the point of viability that, "in the good faith judgment of a treating health care professional, is necessary to protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant individual."

Why it matters: The ballot measure is shaping up to be one of the most politically charged issues of this election season.

Zoom in: Numerous abortion providers tell Axios that the exemptions aren't as all-encompassing as opponents claim, that few abortions actually happen past viability and that the notion that women are terminating viable pregnancies for elective reasons is inconsistent with reality.

  • Valerie Sorkin-Wells, an OB-GYN and member of the Committee to Protect Health Care, which supports the ballot measure, said the point of not having gestational age limits in the initiative was to allow health care professionals to make their own decisions on what's best.

What they're saying: "In my 30 years, I have never seen a patient get an abortion after viability for a trivial, ridiculous reason. These are very serious decisions that are made with patients, their family and their physicians," Gabrielle Goodrick, a doctor at Camelback Family Planning, told Axios.

Between the lines: Candace Lew, an OB-GYN who chairs the Arizona for Abortion Access campaign, provided Axios with examples of situations she said might warrant abortions past the point of viability for mental health reasons:

  • Someone with a history of severe postpartum depression from previous births finds out past the viability point that they're pregnant .
  • A mother learns her baby wouldn't survive for more than a few days after birth.
  • Other providers said it could include things like someone experiencing schizophrenia, suicide attempts, rape, incest, domestic violence or substance abuse disorders, but Goodrick said mild depression wouldn't warrant an abortion under the post-viability mental health exemption.

By the numbers: Nationally, only 0.9% of all abortions performed in the U.S. in 2021, a total of 4,070, occurred after the 20-week mark, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

  • In Arizona, that accounted for 1.6% of abortions that year.
  • Lew noted that such abortions are rare even in states with no gestational age limits, such as Minnesota (1.6%), Oregon (1.9%) and Vermont (1.6%).

The other side: Cindy Dahlgren, a spokesperson for the It Goes Too Far campaign, told Axios the exemptions in the initiative are so broad that they would effectively allow for abortions at any point in a pregnancy.

  • "The language is so vague that it's all up to the good faith judgment of the provider on whether or not to sign off on a late-term abortion," she said.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to accurately identify Valerie Sorkin-Wells' organization as the Committee to Protect Health Care (not the Committee to Protect Patient Rights).

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